By Enefiok Udo-Obong
October 20th, 2020 will go down as a very sad day in the annals of Nigerian History. The black Tuesday was the day armed soldiers with full military tanks ambushed peaceful youthful protesters who had nothing but the national flag in their arms. The protesters were shot at indiscriminately and depending on which report you believe, the death toll count is anything from 17 to 75. This sad incident occurred at the climax of what has been a generally peaceful two weeks of protest and the venue, the Lekki Toll Plaza has been the ground zero of the protests. The most organized and peaceful of protests to ever happen in our nation….yet it was the center of bloodshed.
The ramifications of this ill-advised action are numerous. It would take a lot of political, legal and international dimensions however let us discuss the seemingly unimportant issue of sports, because at a moment like this in the growth of our nation, it is hard to think of activities like sports which brings joy and unity to us as a nation when we are imploding with disunity and pain.
The victims of the Lekki massacre and a lot of related deaths across the country due to these protests are the youths. That demography of the population that is largely responsible for making the nation proud in sporting competitions like the Olympics, the World cup, the Nation’s cup etc. The demography of the population that is an index of the future success of a nation. The demography of the population that dream big ideas for the nation and the demography of the population that after the previous 60 years of waste, the next 60 years of hope depend on.
However despite their contributions and aspiration for the nation, the ruling class seem to ignore the yearning and needs of these youths. This virile demography of the population. They have been despised and snubbed. And they have decided to demand their rights in a peaceful manner. Instead of a dialogue and common ground to their demands, they have been attacked with bullets and teargas. This is because with elections not in the near future and with no immediate need for their services, the youth are seen as an irritant and hence do not need to be heard. Or so it seems.
Reactions from the youthful sportsmen have been quick. Odion ighalo, a footballer for Manchester United was still in Paris where his team had gone to play a champions league match immediately tweeted his frustration saying he was ‘ashamed of the Nigerian Government”. Super Eagles midefielder John Ogbu tweeted that when the time comes for the youths to play football for the country, the leaders should bring in their own children. Alex Iwobi and Victor Osimen both tweeted the graphic picture of the bloodied Nigerian flag that has become a symbol of that tragic night. William Troost Ekong went a step further. In addition to the tweet of the bloodied flag, he went on to tweet a petition to the United Kingdom calling for sanctions and punishment for the Nigerian Government. Samuel Chukwueze was not left out as he expressed his sadness on twitter too.
Athletes from other sports apart from football reacted too. Nigeria’s Queen of the track and Olympic Silver medalist Blessing Okagbare went into a twitter rant. Expressing shock and horror over the bloodshed. Anthony Joshua tweeted that it was time for change to come. Many others in various ways have shown sadness and shock.
Just over the weekend, the have been agitations that the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports should postpone the National Sports Festival due to hold in Edo State. In reality there could not have been a different decision. To gather 10,000 active and restless youths at one place during this period would be a recipe for disaster. What the nation needs now is healing. We need to show the youths that they are important. That they have a voice and their voices should and would be heard.
The Youths are bitter and rightly so. They make up our sporting ambassadors. The hunger to compete for an ungrateful nation is waning. They are fatigued. They expect more from us as a nation. Their demands are not selfish, their demands are not irrational. They want justice. They want reforms. They want an end to corruption. They want to live, their God given right to life.
We have to assure them that we have not forgotten their importance to us…their gallant heroics in music, entertainment and sports. We have to make them understand that what happened on that black Tuesday was an aberration and not a norm. We have to show them once again there is pride in representing Nigeria. That we can grow and overcome this. We must make them believe that the pain of Lekki would lead to growth in strength and unity. We must bring them back to our fold. We must apologize for mistakes and errors. We must believe that they are the future of our great nation.
Only then, do we make them understand that their toils in sweat as they compete for our Nation in different competitions would never again amount to the toll of blood witnessed on that Black Tuesday.